Ravens a natural part of Baltimore's psyche

January 27, 2001|By Sandy Crockett

And now, a brief psychoanalysis of the relationship between the city of Baltimore and its professional football team:

"We are the Baltimore Ravens, they are us."

That's about as succinct a diagnosis as Dr. Paul Shepard, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland Medical Center (and a Ravens fan) can offer when asked about the transference going on between the fans and the new Birds in town.

Historically, Shepard says, teams have represented cities. Teams without local rivals, such as the Ravens and Orioles, establish even deeper connections with their fans. And for a city that had yearned for a football team since its abandonment by the Colts in 1984, the Ravens carry even more emotional weight.

For Shepard, the abandonment issue is old news, and it's time to move on. "The Colts have finally been put on the mantel," he says. "Not to diminish their memory, but now we have a new team."

But what about this notion that a team can actually "represent" a city in some psychological fashion? That its on-field struggles and victories somehow mirror our own?

Shepard buys that. No one, he says, thought particularly well of this team. And that has Baltimore written all over it.

"They were perpetual underdogs this season. Really, they were virtually ignored in the national media. And the media has disrespected Baltimore [the city]," he says, a city that is changing from its media image as a place full of drugs and crime.

Shepard, 48, is not a native Baltimorean. The professor grew up in New York, lived for a while in Texas and came to Baltimore in 1989 from New Haven, Conn. "I came to this city and fell in love with it," he says. "Sometimes it can be easier for someone who didn't grow up here to put it all in perspective."

Like Baltimore, he says, the Ravens demonstrate a certain spunky character.

"I can remember after the San Diego game when a member of the offense had a conversation with the member of the defense. He said, `You know we are struggling a little bit. Not getting many points on the board,' " Shepard says. "But the member of the defense said to him, `Don't worry. We got your back.'

"That type of solidarity defines Baltimore. You see it reflected all the time, in our neighborhoods, on our stoops. This year's team is a microcosm of the city itself."

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